Blog Posts

14 November, 2020

What Kind of Early Reading Intervention Should We Provide?

Teacher question: It seems there is currently a focus on intervention solely for the word recognition side in the early grades. The explanation is that most students who struggle, struggle with decoding, and I of course agree. However, I would add that many of those also struggle with language comprehension, with language development deficits that are measurable and observationally apparent in conversation with them as preschoolers, kindergartners, and first graders. The district’s current assessment model pretty much excludes them any assessment of language comprehension. I was told that one of the main reasons that children struggle later with reading comprehension is from ...

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07 November, 2020

Should We Alter the Reading Benchmarks Because of the Pandemic?

Teacher questions: Over the past few weeks, I'e fielded many questions about testing – from policymakers and teachers. Here are a couple of examples:  1.     Should schools lower grade level benchmark reading expectations due to lost instructional time during the pandemic? Please advise ASAP. 2.     A question that keeps coming up is, if a student cannot read grade level text on their own, can they then listen to the text and answer the questions on an assessment in order to be considered "meeting" reading standards 1-9 in grades 2-5 since there is a specified Lexile band for those grades through standard 10? Shanahan response: Over ...

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31 October, 2020

Does Your Comprehension Strategy Instruction Have this Key Element?

I was observing writing instruction in an 8th grade suburban classroom. The experienced teacher was quite skilled and he both managed his classroom well and was sophisticated in his ability to interpret literary text and to engage students in reading that penetrated deeply into the meaning of the text. On this day his lesson focused providing students with tools that would overcome writing blocks. His students often struggled to figure out what to write about; they agonized when given a writing assignment. He demonstrated his strategy and directed the students to give it a try. One especially bright young man towards the ...

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10 October, 2020

Letters in Phonemic Awareness Instruction or the Reciprocal Nature of Learning to Read

Teachers’ question: I’m confused. I’ve heard you say that we should teach phonemic awareness and letters simultaneously. Other “experts” say that phonemic awareness is strictly an auditory skill and that including letters slows children’s learning. Help! I have some children who, no matter what, don’t seem to be making any progress with phonemic awareness. These three are the only ones who have not progressed to phonics instruction. What should I do? Shanahan’s response: This is one of those, “Do we follow theory or data” questions. I’m a data man, myself. Many educators tout the idea that phonemic awareness (PA) is an auditory skill and that ...

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03 October, 2020

Why We Need to Teach Sentence Comprehension

“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost; For the want of a shoe the horse was lost; For the want of a horse the battle was lost; For the failure of battle the kingdom was lost;-- And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”                         -James Baldwin This oft used litany reminds me of reading: For the want of phonemic awareness the decoding was lost; for the want of phonics the fluency was lost… you get the idea. The abilities that comprise reading are hierarchical, each nested in the other (though it is not as linear as the horseshoe nail formula—we don’t completely ...

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26 September, 2020

Here's Why I Wouldn't Teach Less Reading to Improve Social Studies

This week the Thomas Fordham Institute released a new provocative report, Social Studies Instruction and Reading Comprehension. It says U.S. schools spend “excessive amounts of time” teaching the English Language Arts (ELA) and not enough time on social studies. In fact, they claim that this imbalance is lowering reading achievement. Kids will read better if they get less reading instruction and more social studies teaching. I’ve long argued for what they call out here as excessive. To reach the reading levels we aspire to, children need lots of reading and writing instruction (and, at least for English learners, lots of ...

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19 September, 2020

What about Personalized Learning in Reading?

Teacher question: I would love to know what you think about the movement in personalized learning in K-8 schools. A few schools in my district have been moving to this approach for math instruction and I'd be interested in hearing your ideas of how this would look in reading and writing instruction. Thanks! Shanahan responds: Your question reminds me of the first time I tried to cook chicken. I was in a hurry so I figured if I turned up the heat, I could cook it faster… and that works – but only on the outside of the chicken. The inside, I discovered, was ...

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12 September, 2020

Seatwork that Makes Sense for Reading

Teacher question: I work with students in small groups daily and need the rest of the students to be engaged in meaningful practice of their new literacy skills. What types of activities would be best for this practice? Shanahan response: The benefits of small group instruction are obvious. Teachers can make the learning experience more apt and intense – the small numbers allow for more responsiveness, more vigilant monitoring, and fine tuning of the teaching. The downside of small group instruction should be equally evident. While the teacher is working with one small group, the rest of the kids are on their own. Much ...

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22 August, 2020

Teaching with Complex Text: Haven't You Ever Heard of the ZPD?

Teacher question: I’ve read what you’ve written about the instructional level. You claim that there is no such thing. Haven’t you ever heard of the “zone of proximal development (ZPD)?” Shanahan responds: I’ve heard of it, but if you think what I’ve written is contradictory to it, then I suspect you don’t really understand the ZPD construct or its relationship to this aspect of reading. Let’s start with the “instructional level” idea first. A century ago, it was common practice for reading teachers to place children in different reading books based on their abilities. For instance, one Wisconsin survey from 1918 shows that the majority ...

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15 August, 2020

Silent Reading Comprehension is Worth Teaching – Even at a Distance

Reading instruction is a faddish thing. We reading teachers can be as passionate and fickle as a gaggle of teens cooing over Billy Eilesh or TikTok. We go through periods of using textbooks or avoiding them; embracing phonics or eschewing it. The educational pendulum swings to and fro. A new reading program or approach is discovered, seems to be everywhere, then one wonders whatever happened to it…. Wisconsin Design, SRA cards, Whole Language, learning styles… the beat goes on.   One thing that never seems to change, however, is the ubiquity of “round robin reading.” This is the practice of having one child ...

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One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

He studies reading and writing across all ages and abilities. Feel free to contact him.